US lawmakers pass Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act: What you need to know

US lawmakers pass Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act: What you need to know

Hong Kong protest US flags
Protesters sing the "Glory to Hong Kong" protest anthem as they attend a rally in Hong Kong on Oct 14, 2019, calling on US politicians to pass a Bill that could alter Washington's relationship with the trading hub. (Photo: AFP/Anthony WALLACE)

WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives on Tuesday (Oct 15) passed a Bill supported by protesters in Hong Kong that aims to defend civil rights in the semi-autonomous city.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which will now move to the Senate before it can become law, drew rare bipartisan support in a polarised Congress.

It was one of three measures passed on Tuesday related to the protests in Hong Kong.

READ: US House passes legislation taking hard line on China over Hong Kong, Huawei

WHAT’S IN THE BILL?

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which was introduced in June, would involve an annual review of whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from Beijing to justify its special trading status under US law.

The Bill urges Beijing to uphold its commitments to Hong Kong, which includes allowing Hong Kongers to govern with “a high degree of autonomy and without undue interference”.

It also states that Hong Kong voters should “freely enjoy the right to elect the chief executive and all members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council by universal suffrage”.

READ: Tens of thousands of Hong Kong protesters call for US support in first approved rally in weeks

The Bill adds that the US should allow Hong Kong residents to obtain visas to work or study in the United States - even if they have been arrested for being part of “non-violent protests supporting human rights or the rule of law”.

In addition, those found responsible for “abducting and torturing people for exercising internationally recognised human rights in Hong Kong” would be sanctioned and barred from entering the US, should the measure become law.

HOW WAS THE BILL PASSED?

The Bill was passed by both Republicans and Democrats in a unanimous voice vote, meaning a recorded vote was not needed.

"For years, the people of Hong Kong have faced a barrage of unjust and harsh restrictions on their freedoms, and those who have stood up for their rights have been met with a cruel crackdown,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“If America does not speak up for human rights in China because of commercial interests then we lose all moral authority to speak out for human rights any place in the world."

Nancy Pelosi Hong Kong Bill
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaking on Oct 15, 2019 on the Bill that aims to defend civil rights in Hong Kong. (Image: Reuters)

Said Republican Representative Chris Smith, a prime sponsor of the Bill: "Today we're simply urging the Chinese president and the Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to faithfully honour the government's promises that Hong Kong's rights and autonomy would be protected."

WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR HONG KONG?

After Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China in 1997, the US enacted an Act that allows it to continue treating Hong Kong separately from mainland China on matters concerning trade export and economics control.

An end to this special trading relationship with the US could have damaging economic consequences for Hong Kong, which is already facing a recession.

Hong Kong protest barricades
A man walks along a line of security barriers set up outside the central government offices in Hong Kong on Oct 16, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony WALLACE)

The US is Hong Kong’s second-largest trading partner. It is the second-largest market for Hong Kong exports, which amounted to US$42 billion in 2017, according to Hong Kong’s Trade and Industry Department.

WHAT ELSE DID US LAWMAKERS APPROVE?

The House also passed, by a similar voice vote, the Protect Hong Kong Act which would bar commercial exports of military and crowd-control items that Hong Kong police could use against demonstrators.

This also needs to be approved by the Senate next before it is sent to the White House for the president to sign into law or veto.

READ: Homemade bomb used for the first time during Hong Kong protests, say police

READ: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announces ban on face masks

The third measure passed by the House is a non-binding resolution recognising Hong Kong's relationship to the US, condemning Beijing's "interference" in its affairs, as well as supporting the right of the city's residents to protest.

Hong Kong protest tear gas
Police fire tear gas to disperse protesters in Tsuen Wan district in Hong Kong on Oct 1, 2019, as the city observes the National Day holiday to mark the 70th anniversary of communist China's founding. (Photo: AFP/Philip FONG)

WHAT IS CHINA’S REACTION?

China expressed "strong indignation" over the passing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

"What Hong Kong faces is not the so-called human rights and democracy issue at all, but the issue of stopping violence, reinstating order and upholding the rule of law as soon as possible," said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang in a statement.

He added that the US should "stop meddling", and warned that China would take "strong measures" to counter the Bill.

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

Follow us on Telegram for the latest on Hong Kong: https://cna.asia/telegram

Source: CNA/Agencies/gs(mi)

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